Fear of the other. Blaming. Scapegoating. It’s as old as the Crips and the Bloods, the Hatfields and the McCoys, the Greeks and the Persians.
Apparently, I am no student of history. Last night, I met a writer at a reading at Synergy Cafe. Still bubbly over my good news about my letter being published in the Pasadena Star News, I mentioned it to this writer, who happens to live on the west side of Los Angeles. She asked about the subject matter, and I explained it was in support of funding for more and better tennis courts in Pasadena.
She snorted, “Oh, the poor people in Pasadena. They don’t have enough tennis courts.” Followed by rolling of eyes and tossing of head backwards. She continued, “Well, how many tennis courts are there?” I was caught off-guard and hazarded a guess, “There are 42, but they’re in bad shape.” Someone else commented, “Forty-two sounds like enough to me.”
Hmm. Harumph. Argh. The public perception of Pasadena is that a bunch of rich, white, snobby people live here. The west side of Los Angeles thinks that Pasadena is a suburban, fuddy-duddy, arcane town, full of grandmothers who vote Republican (think “little old lady from Pasadena”).
It is true that Pasadena was founded-settled-invaded (depending on your point of view) by mid-Westerners who had enough money to escape harsh Midwest winters and live here part of the year. They also had enough money to have servants. So there has always been a working-for-low-wages population in Pasadena too.
And there still is. In 1999, 15.9% of Pasadenans were at or below the poverty level (compared with 14.2% for the whole State of California). The census tract that I live in, along with several adjoining ones, comprise a Health Professional Shortage Area (or HPSA). That means that there is one physician for every 21,000 people. In other words, that one physician would have to see 57 people every day for a year to see them all.
LA’s West-siders will continue to talk trash about Pasadena, and I suppose people here will continue to say things like, “Oh! I’m so glad I don’t live on the west side! The traffic is terrible there! And the people are rude!” The same old stuff will continue, but it feels discriminatory to me. Unpleasant. Unfriendly. Unfair. Unnecessary.
If the people in one big American city can’t say nice things about those who happen to live across town, maybe it’s time to quit pretending that we can stop wars and spread democracy.